Paint a pretty picture

It wasn’t before I attended law school at 21 years of age in 1970 that I had to learn to cook. Until then I had survived on Welsh rarebit in boarding school at St. Andrew’s College and cafeteria food while in undergraduate studies at Glendon Hall. My digs at Dalhousie Law School consisted of a shared room not far from the school. It was on the top floor of an ancient white clapboard house (since demolished) on Seymour Street called “Domus Legis“. On the main floor from the front entrance was a spacious room with a fireplace surrounded by high windows. The space was left open to accommodate social gatherings of the students and law professors who all rubbed shoulders as liberally as the beer flowed.  Downstairs in the characteristically stone-walled basement was a dart board.  The top floor was reserved for the residency of four law students, one of whom was a second or third year law student who may have had some involvement with the management or oversight of the property.  The other single room was occupied by John “Jock” McLeish who is now a highly successful practitioner in Toronto. My roommate from Newfoundland was George Horan with whom by entire coincidence I recently reacquainted myself at an art show in Almonte; he was one of the contributing artists.

The only two other rooms on the third floor of the house were a full bathroom with tub and shower and a kitchen with ‘fridge, stove and a small table next to a window.

The hitherto unparalleled challenge for me was not learning to live in residence with a roommate but rather going to a grocery store to shop for food. I had never made a habit of attending grocery stores; in fact I don’t recall having been inside a grocery store. I had an even more infrequent fraternity with cooking or recipes. Indeed so overrun was I by inutility and disassociation that I unwittingly fashioned grocery shopping as something only certain people did; and of those who did, the vast majority were in my experience women. Initially I found myself in the aisles of the grocery store pretending to be there by accident or sudden emergency. My regular purchases included a dense, moist pumpernickel bread; butter; molasses and Cheese Whiz. Anything beyond toast that required cooking was a provocation. One day a visiting colleague spirited me to buy and cook brown rice and a selection of vegetables. It was however a short-lived constancy.

I know with certainty when I first began to cook. It was after I met a woman on the beach on St. Maarten in the Caribbean. She told me of a quick meal she prepared instead of ordering a pizza after carousing with her (then) fiancé. It consisted of olive oil heated in a pan, red pepper flakes, parsley, oregano and garlic. Then toss the mixture with the boiled pasta, sprinkle with fresh grated Parmesan cheese – and voilà! When I returned to Canada I was so impressed by the simplicity and undeniable quality of the recipe that I ventured to try it myself. I ended augmenting the recipe with sliced tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, green pepper, stuffed olives, shrimp or generally whatever was at hand. My only other recipe of note is for a Side Car à la Savoy 1930.